Editor’s Note: The following is excerpts from the end of year speech delivered by Guam Chamber of Commerce President David Leddy at a general membership meeting of the chamber on Nov. 19 at the Westin Resort Guam.
Some of my personal highlights from the past year include:
• How our Delegadu Program continued to enhance our relationship with the Guam Legislature for more productive and meaningful dialogue on issues and public policy impacting our businesses and community. And how this has led to the formalization of a similar relationship with the Mayors Council.
• The chamber taking the lead, spearheaded by efforts of our Legislative Review Committee, to effectively mitigate the impact of the minimum wage increase legislation on our businesses and economy.
• The development of a Small Business Advisory Council through our Small Business Focus & Development Committee to provide seminars and training to prepare our businesses for the minimum wage hike next year.
• The development of a GRT Review Sub-Committee through our Small Business Focus & Development Committee to engage Department of Revenue & Taxation on issues and concerns from our businesses in regards to the Gross Receipts Tax law.
The year kicked off with two popular value-added member benefits; the launch of the Chamber’s Group Health Insurance Program, which made it possible for many of our small businesses to afford health coverage for themselves and their employees; and the Member to Member Offer Program, which provided the opportunity for members to offer discounts and premiums on their goods and services exclusively to other members. You can be sure that we will continue to find ways to further leverage the membership for additional cost savings for all.
Ninety years brings with it historic markers for any organization that should be celebrated for the milestones achieved, for lessons learned and also for what opportunities lie ahead. The Guam Chamber of Commerce, just shy of a decade under a century, is no different.
We can say that when it comes to the economic drivers that have helped Guam to weather both good and challenging times, the chamber’s leadership has been a factor in bringing the island through in terms of innovation and strategic execution of sound planning.
It has come because we have been able to bring together the best minds, the best experience and the best visionaries who have used the chamber to drive the initiatives to bring the changes needed.
As we approach 2015, the same need for the same resolve remains the same as it was for every member who has been part of this chamber for every one of its 90 years.
Even with these overarching themes, we are a membership organization made up of business owners and business leaders. Our core work is to:
1) Help every member’s business grow
2) Help educate members on doing business better
3) Advocate on our members’ behalf for an optimum business environment
We are not a country club and we are not a charity. We are an engaged group of business professionals working together to leverage each other through the chamber to promote and create mutual opportunities for our businesses.
Our membership fee is an investment that yields a return in business partnerships and clients that affects the bottom line. Revenue and profit to our business.
As we know the business climate changes and affects all of us. Guam is in a unique position that offers opportunities and challenges. We have recently seen how even something as viable as the pillar of military buildup for economic growth (still viable with a different focus) can be vulnerable to more complex warfare battlefields between nations that are economic in nature, financial in nature, or taking place in cyberspace.
Yes, it changes the playing field and yes, it affects our investment. And no, this is nothing new to business. We have to be able to change, and it is a reality check to something this chamber has been advocating for years. We have to diversify our economy so when part of it experiences changes, the impact is not as far reaching.
So perhaps the lesson of 90 years is to truly take hold of that mandate and influence our leaders, in both the private and public sectors, to create the environment and laws to diversify our economy.
This means we cannot simply be a passive membership. Every one of us has to be engaged. No longer is it acceptable that a few voices only speak in the chamber on issues, or get involved in committees, come to events or engage in the many other activities. Your investment in the chamber is not only about a fee; it is about your investment of yourself.
Imagine the power of truly invested members in the organization that drives business on Guam and the economic viability of its future. What a wonderful next 90 years that would be.
So when you see the chamber engage in the visa waiver [program], the military buildup, region-centric/Asia economic development, public policy, etc. , the reason for that engagement and for all engagement again is and should always be, “Will it help our members’ businesses grow, educate them to do better business and / or advocate for a better business environment?”
Unlike most places that claim U.S. soil, Guam is in a unique position to take special advantage of foreign commerce. Yes, there are some challenges, but there are so much more advantages. We are simply at the backdoor and close enough to some of the fastest growing economies in the world. We just need to better position ourselves, and the chamber is the place to do it.
We are able to leverage both domestic and international economic branding and footprint as a place to do business and do great business.
With technology, geography is no longer a barrier to us. Our modern-day proas are our connectivity to the rest of the world and our educated population. We need to really take hold of improving the education and workforce development in Guam to make it relevant to our needs, to create and influence a job force that fills those needs, to enhance our competitiveness in the global marketplace and to make this the center of technology for the Pacific.
The Guam Chamber of Commerce will continue to facilitate efforts that will benefit the island’s economy. We know that local business must be center stage in all we do. Where there are complications with competitive markets, we have to find ways to participate and that means to engage on every level, and we also must explore every other business offering that is not offered that locals can provide. The mark of excellent business is to find the need and fill it. This is what your chamber helps you do.
We must continue to work together with our government to address issues and inefficiencies with our One Stop business licensing, the Gross Receipts Tax law and public education in order to make Guam more attractive to investors and businesses.
We have got to stop the excuse and the complacency to accept status quo in the development of our hard and soft infrastructure. The methodology on resolving it that has been used before does not work. The business community has to do an intervention. We need to make sure we get good infrastructure finally built and developed because it will help business flourish. We can no longer take the back seat.
The chamber also understands that controlling and developing a great economic climate will also help us preserve the unique cultural uniqueness of Guam. You will see the chamber continue to advocate for these goals as the buildup efforts continue to come to fruition. This has been a constant from the beginning of our organization.
The chamber will continue to promote, support and advocate for small business on Guam. We are an organization of mostly small businesses. The island’s economy will get healthier with small-businesses thriving. The chamber will support programs, legislation and efforts that support the interests of small businesses. We also are reaching out to small business members to get more involved in chamber committees and leadership positions. Your unique perspectives will add even more value that your chamber needs.
We are not solo even though we are an island in this vast Pacific. We understand the concept of what a village is even before Hillary Clinton coined the phrase, “It takes a village … .” Our neighbors are important to our economic health. Our participation in international and regional business and economic organizations will continue to grow in influence, not only because of the military buildup and associated economic buildup, but also because of Guam’s returning economy sectors in tourism, shipping and other areas.
Some action items contributed by Guam Chamber members and being discussed by members of the Micronesia Council of Chambers of Commerce is developing a Micronesia Free Trade Agreement by treating all import taxes within Micronesia as domestic, which will complement our Buy Local efforts. The other action item is supporting the Micronesia cruise line industry efforts to enhance our tourism offering to our visitors.
So not only will we continue to get to know our neighbors better, but take our place as a leader among them to create economic opportunities that will benefit all. The further advances in communication and the Internet along with Guam’s status as a U.S. territory in this area of the world poses some unique business opportunities not hampered by geography any longer.